The Economist is many things: A world-class business and political affairs newsweekly. High-brow journalism. A publication offering thorough perspectives on relevant issues. Well, most of the time . . .
In a lengthy article for its year-end issue examining issues of global concern, The Economist smartly listed public relations as an industry that will continue to play a big role within the global business community. Unfortunately, the publication chose a rather perplexing and contumelious approach to analyzing public relations’ value.
Derisively titled, “Rise of the image men,” the article attempts to paint the profession in the unflattering light of being the selfish younger brother of advertising and marketing; desperately grasping at those industries’ long-held fame and fortune.
Fortunately, for the well-informed, The Economist’s pessimistic assessment couldn’t be further from the truth. Reality tells us that PR is far more sophisticated, and delivers considerably more value, than it is often given credit for.
And, as 2011 PRSA Chair and CEO Rosanna Fiske, APR, noted in a tweet Monday afternoon, the article missed two clear points relevant to the rise in PR’s value: “Whatever happened to the women? And we work on reputation management, not image.”
In a letter to the editor of The Economist submitted this week by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and co-signed by John Paluszek, APR, Fellow PRSA, former PRSA chair and CEO, and currentGlobalAlliance Chair, we noted that, “Public relations is widely recognized within the global business, nonprofit, NGO and public service communities as having progressed to the point where professionals are generating two-way communications, leading to mutual understanding, cooperation and reciprocal relationships at many levels of society.”
What else did The Economist fail to grasp in its analysis? Beyond the obvious, a few key points—and a much broader perspective—would have been prudent to properly inform its readers. Among those:
● PR has served immeasurable public good. It has changed attitudes and behaviors toward some of the world’s most pressing social issues, from breast cancer awareness to drinking and driving to smoking and obesity.
● Women play a significant role in driving innovation within the profession. The article’s use of the pejorative label “image men” is insulting not only to the profession as a whole, but to female professionals, who make up a large swath of practitioners, including serving in senior-level positions in some of the world’s largest corporations.
● PR already owns social media. Numerousinfluentialbloggers,newsoutlets andresearchreports make a clear distinction that in the digital age, PR provides the most value to clients for their social-media endeavors.
● The industry is growing—rapidly. According to projections from theVeronisSuhlerStevenson 2008 CommunicationsIndustryForecast 2010-14, the PR industry will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 5.6 percent through 2014.
● Ethics guide the profession. Public relations professionals have a special obligation to practice their craft ethically, with the highest standards of truth, accuracy, fairness and responsibility to the public. The PRSACodeofEthics provides a practical set of standards to follow in this regard.
But don’t just take my word for it. The comments written thus far to the article offer an encouraging rebuttal to The Economist’s short-sighted and pejorative-laden analysis.